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Israel backs plans for 381 new settler homes

Jan. 21, 2014 7:05 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2014 10:04 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel's government has approved plans to build 381 new homes in a settlement near annexed East Jerusalem, settlement watchdog Peace Now said Tuesday.

"The Israeli civil administration, which falls under the defense ministry, has published plans for the construction of 381 extra units in Givat Zeev," said spokesman Lior Amihai, referring to a settlement just south of Ramallah.

Peace Now said the new construction proved the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "not serious about the two-state solution and that its actions are contradictory with the negotiations."

It was the third such announcement in as many weeks, and followed Israel's release on Dec. 31 of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners, in accordance with commitments under the US-led peace talks.

On Jan. 6, Israel approved plans for 272 new homes in various West Bank settlements, and four days later it unveiled plans for more than 1,800 new units in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the message was clear.

"Netanyahu's government does not want peace," he told AFP.

"This decision confirms that Netanyahu's government only wants to continue settlement building, which will destroy any possible peace."

With very little progress visible and the April deadline for a framework agreement looming, Erekat said there was no chance the Palestinians would contemplate any extension of the talks.

"We've not been presented with a (plan for) extending negotiations, but we will not extend them for even an additional day after the nine month period we agreed on," he said.

"There are still three months left which Israel can use to move with us towards a peace agreement, but its actions confirm that it's not interested in this. It's destroying everything that might help a comprehensive peace agreement."

President Mahmoud Abbas has frequently lashed out at Israel's settlement building, and last week, four key EU member states summoned the Israeli ambassadors over the plans for another 1,800 settler homes.

The EU move was quickly denounced by Netanyahu as "hypocritical," with the Israeli leader saying its criticism was one-sided and lacked "balance and fairness."

Netanyahu has also denied that Israel was breaching any prior commitment vis-a-vis the peace talks through its ongoing settlement activity.

"We are keeping in line exactly with the understandings we undertook at the beginning of the talks," he told the foreign press corps. "Israel undertook no restraints on construction."

Israel and the Palestinians embarked upon a nine-month track of direct negotiations at the urging of US Secretary of State John Kerry, at the end of July.

But after nearly six months, which have been peppered by a steady flow of new construction announcements, the talks appear to have made little visible progress.

Israeli construction on occupied Palestinian land is one of the most thorny issues of the peace process, and brought down the last attempt at direct talks in 2010.

The international community considers all Jewish settlements built on land seized in 1967 to be illegal.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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